Questions reveal so much. For example, if you’re currently wondering, “What do ticks look like?” We can guess that you’re in the unfortunate position of having found a creepy crawly on you or one of your furry friends.
The trouble with bugs, though, is that to the human eye – they tend to look a lot alike. And most times, we don’t really care about making distinctions.
But at other times, like when you come back from a hike and find a bug stuck to you, knowing exactly which bug you’re dealing with is of paramount importance. Because it’s going to tell you what risks may be present and exactly how to deal with the pest in question.
So let’s get this cleared up straight away: is it a tick or not?
What Do Ticks Look Like?
Tick identification can be slightly trickier than with other insects. For example, an ant looks like an ant pretty much as soon as it’s left the pupae stage.
And it looks like an ant whether it’s just eaten or hasn’t had a decent meal for days.
Not so with ticks. Ticks change their looks depending on whether they’ve just eaten or have yet to have a meal, as you can see in the tick picture below.
The left tick is an adult deer tick and the right tick is also an adult deer tick that’s recently consumed a blood meal. Pretty different looking, right?
Ticks also look pretty different depending on the stage of life they’re in, with larval ticks resembling pale, minuscule dots with only six legs while tick nymphs and adults are bigger, darker and have eight legs.
Males and females also look slightly different. To make things even more confusing, there are several species of ticks, each with slightly varying characteristics.
This is precisely why we’re including a huge variety of pictures of ticks so you can see these little buggers in all the forms and shapes they may take.
For now, here are a few identifying characteristics that apply to all ticks. Ticks typically have a flattened oval or tear dropped shaped body before feeding and a plump, rounded body after feeding.
Another constant is that ticks don’t have wings or antennae. And in all life stages, ticks are visible to the naked eye.
Can You See Ticks?
A popular tick misconception is that ticks are too small to be seen with the naked eye. This isn’t true.
Sure, ticks are small but they are definitely visible. The one caveat is that ticks are different sizes depending on their stage of life. Ticks go through four life stages – egg, larva, nymph and adult. And both their appearance and size differ depending on the stage they’re in.
A Tick’s Lifecycle
Here’s a quick look at the lifecycle of the tick and a breakdown of what they’ll look like at each stage.
Once a tick has hatched from its egg, it begins life as a larva, as you can see below. At this point in its life, the tick is at its tiniest, measuring at around half a millimeter!
Making them even more difficult to identify at this stage, tick larvae are pale in color and only have six legs – they only develop the eight legs characteristic of ticks once they leave the larva stage.
They’ll only feed once at this stage, staying attached to their host for a few days and then dropping back to the ground to molt into the next stage.
After the larval stage, the tick becomes a nymph, at which point it becomes bigger and darker as well as eight-legged.
Ticks nymphs are bigger than larvae, yes, but they’re still tiny creatures, only around 1mm in size. That’s roughly the size of a poppyseed, which means identification is still difficult at this point.
How difficult? Take a close look at the picture below. Can you spot which ones are poppy seeds and which ones are tick nymphs?
This tiny size is bad news because according to the CDC, it’s tick nymphs that are the most likely to transmit Lyme disease. How so? Well, it’s the nymph ticks that are most active through the spring and summer months – the exact times you’re also most active outdoors.
Plus, their diminutive size makes them harder to detect and remove, making it easier for them to transmit diseases and infections. That’s why the smartest thing to do is to prevent ticks from getting on you and your pets in the first place.
By the time ticks reach adulthood, they are definitely visible, measuring around 2mm to 3mm, even when they’re not engorged from a blood meal.
At their normal, non-engorged size, an adult tick is around the size of a sesame seed.
But as you can see below, they can swell considerably after feeding, making them roughly the size of an apple seed.
To give you an even clearer idea of exactly how much a tick’s looks can differ depending on its stage of life, its gender, its species and its meal status, below is a little chart of tick pictures.
Best Pictures of Ticks for Identification
By now, you already know more about ticks than most of the general human population. But we’re not done yet. In fact, we’ve only just gotten started.
Here are the best pictures of ticks in a vast variety of situations to help you identify ticks no matter what the sneaky buggers may currently look like!
Here’s an image of an adult female deer tick perched on a leaf. Keep in mind that this isn’t a tick posing for a photoshoot – it’s actually how ticks behave in the wild.
Ticks like to position themselves at the tips of leaves so that it’ll be easier to latch onto an unwitting host that may walk past.
As you can see from this below picture of a dog tick about to bite, ticks aren’t the most attractive of species. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that they don’t grow larger than a couple millimeters.
Below is a picture of a tick nymph. Even against a white background, you can see how small it is and how difficult it could be to identify. Especially if a tick like this got embedded in the skin of your furry friends.
Here’s a clear close-up picture of an engorged adult tick. As you can see, they look very different after they’ve fed and also much easier to spot.
Here’s a pair of ticks that were found attached in cat skin, both engorged.
What Does an Embedded Tick Look Like?
You have now seen more pictures of ticks than any human has ever wanted. But what about ticks that are already embedded in the skin?
Nobody wants to come back from a long, relaxing hike only to find that you’ve become lunch for a family of ticks. But if you find a tick feasting on your blood, at least take solace in the fact that you’ve caught them in the act.
And that’s a good thing. Why? For starters, you’ll know what sort of bug caused the bite and even be able to save its body so your doctor can identify its exact tick type.
But even more importantly, ticks take a long time to fully feed and it’s estimated that it takes at least 12 hours of feeding for a tick to transmit most tick-borne diseases.
So if you’ve been “lucky” enough to find the bloodsucker still attached, you’re able to remove the tick well before it’s had a chance to infect you.
But first, you want to be sure that it is, in fact, a tick that’s embedded in your skin. We got you covered. Here are the best ticks in skin pictures.
Here’s a close-up of a tick that has embedded itself into human skin and is in the process of feeding. You can see that the skin around the tick bite is already reddened from the bite.
And yet another disturbing image of an adult tick that is just about to get its blood meal.
This is a brilliant image of a tick as it begins its feed. The last thing you want to see on your skin for sure.
The only upside to finding a tick feeding on us is that even the hairiest of us don’t have enough body hair to disguise an adult, engorged tick. As you can see below, this tick is still attached and feeding – and thankfully, very visible, making it just a matter of time before it is removed.
As you can see below, not all embedded ticks are as easy to make out. The below hard tick that’s attached to human skin is barely distinguishable from a pimple, which is why it’s a good idea to always check for ticks after you’ve been in tick territory.
Here’s another image of a very sneaky tick that’s embedded inside the skin. The tick may be hard to see but the telltale red circle around the bite is a clear indication of its presence.
What Do Tick Bites Look Like?
So you found some bug bites on your skin – but no embedded tick. How do you know if it was a tick that caused the bite?
The honest answer is you won’t know for sure – unless you experience symptoms of a tick-borne disease.
One of these dangerous infections is Lyme disease and the hallmark sign of that is a rash which resembles a bullseye, as you can see in the below picture.
Another dangerous bacterial infection that ticks can transmit is Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), which is considered the most serious tick-born illness in the USA.
The rash caused by this infection is hard to miss, as you can see in the picture below. It typically start on the extremities of the body like your palms, ankles and the soles of your feet – and then migrates toward the center of your body.
But what if the tick that bit you was totally harmless? In that case, there’s no definite way to know if it is, in fact, a tick bite.
Tick bites are typically painless when they happen since the offending tick injects an anesthetic into your skin before it begins feeding. You will probably never feel a thing.
And the tick bite itself will be so small – a little red dot, if you get anything at all – that you may not even notice it.
But there are a few characteristic of tick bites that may help you identify them – or at the very least differentiate them from other bug bites. Here are some quick tick bite facts:
- Where is it? Ticks gravitate toward warm, moist areas of the body so if the bite is in a tick-desirable spot like the armpit or groin, the chances are higher that it could be a tick bite.
- How many? Tick bites usually show up as just one bite. Unlike bed bugs, ticks don’t bite in lines or clusters.
- Pus or no pus? Tick bites won’t be fluid- or pus-filled.
The most common mark of a tick bite will simply be a little red spot, if you have an allergic reaction to the tick’s saliva. In most cases, the average tick bite is mostly indistinguishable from other insect bites.
Last but not least, there’s always the chance that you may think you removed the tick but the head and mouthparts remained in your skin. In that case, you’ll see a black mark at the site of the bite – it sort of resembles what a long-removed piercing would look like.
In this case, it’s important to remove the rest of the tick since there’s a risk of infection.
What Does a Tick Look Like on a Dog?
Ticks are tiny. And dogs – well, most of them – are furry. Which makes the process of detecting ticks on dogs a tricky matter. To make it easier, here are the best images of ticks on dogs to help you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Here’s a close-up image of an adult tick right on a dog right before it has started feeding. It’s yet to be engorged with blood but still very visible.
Below is a picture of a tick embedded on the inside of a dog’s ear. Not cool, tick. Not cool at all.
An yet another image of an engorged deer tick hiding in dog fur.
And last but not least, an image of a tick discovered feasting in cat’s fur. Because ticks don’t just affect dogs – they will also happily feed on cats and humans.
By now, you have a crystal clear picture of whether you’ve got a tick on your hands or not. And if you do, one thing is for sure: you probably never want to repeat this experience.
So in the interest of tick prevention, check out our article on how to get rid of ticks in the yard – because this is the most likely place for you and your furry loved ones to pick up ticks.